Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

10 May 2012

Cameroon: The Untouchable Reserve

The densely populated locality of Santchou in Menoua Division, West Region will live to remember the unfortunate incident that occurred last Tuesday, May 08; wherein some families saw their houses set ablaze and family members wounded as a result of conflict on land which does not belong to them.

Sources close to the incident point to the fact that, the Mbo people, notably those in the villages of Ndem Manto burnt down four houses belonging to the Bameleke population residing in the same area following a dispute over land located in the Santchou Wildlife Reserve. In effect, 2,500 hectares of the Santchou reserve covering an area of 7,000 hectares had been transformed into farmland by the population of both ethnic groups.

This activity had gone on for several years unabated but in 2011, the administration put an end to it cutting down all what had been planted in the reserve. But surprisingly, the Bameleke population did not embrace this decision and so, when the Mbo people decided to cut down the plants themselves, this met with stiff resistance and consequently an open conflict between the two groups. As if that were not enough, court cases were deposited at the Dschang Court for "legal" intervention.

Unlike it is often said; that the law should be allowed to take its course, it is perhaps important to note two interesting phenomena concerning this issue. One, the conflict concerned land which is entirely protected by the law; two, the said population exhibited clear ignorance of the law by daring to encroach into the land. Without very much digging into how such court cases could be handled, the Governor of the West Region, Midjiyawa Bakari seems to have taken the bold by the horns by politically sensitising the population on the need to eschew hatred and embrace peace.

The peace-loving approach by the Governor ought to have taken the opposite direction if things were to be put in their rightful perspective considering that the Santchou Wildlife reserve is protected land and the population was quite aware of that. In effect, the Santchou Wildlife reserve is one of the country's 17 Wildlife reserves created by government and which prohibit certain activities which can endanger the existence of rare animals. The occupation of such reserve entails the outright violation of the law, a thing the population that invaded the Santchou reserve may be guilty of. By inhabiting the reserve and carrying out agricultural and other activities, the population was incidentally destabilising the equilibrium of living organisms in the area.

Perhaps the population was playing the ignorance of not knowing the importance of wildlife to man. Perhaps they did not know that wildlife helps to maintain ecological 'balance of nature' and food chain; or that it helps scientists carry out research in animal husbandry and even in agriculture. How will the people of Santchou not know that wildlife is a tourist and cultural attraction which can bring in lots of revenue into the country? While the administration continues to look for a lasting solution to the conflict, it is important to let the said population understand that they were involved in a criminal act punishable by law but that the Governor's approach carries a humanitarian face, especially where he instructed the Senior Divisional Officer to look for where to settle the same people that invaded the area.

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